Ranking the Best Coaching Situations in 2016-17

Now that Free Agency has settled down and it’s still two weeks until the Olympic Basketball tips off, we’re in prime time for speculative and hypothetical articles. This article can definitely be characterised as such. Imagine the following: every NBA coach is immediately fired and each team has to go about finding themselves a new coach. Who gets meetings with whoever they want, which rosters are the most attractive, and which teams are at the top of coaches’ lists? I’ll be ranking every team from 1 to 30 in the order I believe best reflects the most appealing coaching situations going into the new season. Important factors include trust in the GM to make the right decisions going forward, talent on the roster, buy-in from the players, and pressure from the fanbase and front office. For the purpose of this rampant conjecture, teams with a dual GM/Coach situation I assumed that the current man would step into a purely front-office role. Luring a good coach is key to a team’s success, and this article will serve to analyse one aspect of the likelihood of a team’s future success, as well as satisfying my obscure dreams of one day becoming an NBA head coach. So without further ado, let’s get into the list.

First Tier – Title Contenders

1. Golden State Warriors
It would be foolish to pick any team other than the Warriors, there’s just so many reasons why this is such a good scene for a coach. Given that there are 4 all-NBA level players on this roster, it’s hands down the most attractive in the league and you’re in a situation where you have 82 regular season games to fine-tune a playoff strategy while being able to simply roll the ball out there if need be and trot to 60 wins. I would have a lot of faith in Bob Myers to fill out the rest of the roster with talented players and two cornerstone players in Kevin Durant and Steph Curry. The challenging aspects would be the task of managing all of the superstar personalities in the locker-room which could turn out to be a real challenge, and the need to temper raging expectations from the fanbase. That being said, this roster is a pace-and-space coach’s dream, and I wouldn’t pass this team up for any other in the league.

2. San Antonio Spurs
For a lot of the same reasons as the Warriors, this team comes second on the list. With Kawhi Leonard as the clear centrepiece and another weapon in LaMarcus Aldridge, this team is ready for the playoffs. Trust in RC Buford is high, and the team is full of personalities which are willing to buy into my system. The Pressure would be somewhat high, but nowhere near on the scale of the Warriors, and they are prime candidates to be the ‘underdog’ (second in the west) that knocks off the latest super team (no not the Knicks). Having a lot of tools on the offensive and defensive end to counter the Warriors would give a new coach boundless opportunity to prove oneself as a giant-slayer. There would be concerns taking on this roster however, as you’re going to be filling the shoes of the greatest coach of all time, and anyone stepping into the role should have some self-doubt about carrying on his legacy or taking the franchise in a new direction.

3. Cleveland Cavaliers
This team rounds out the tier of teams that are primed for a title, and comes at the bottom of said tier because of the challenging predicament faced by the coach of a LeBron James team. The David Blatt situation demonstrated how a coach who tries to assert himself too much on the coach will face an ultimately sad demise, not the sort of scenario a new coach wants to be stepping into. However, debut coach Tyron Lue showed that a young coach can thrive in the situation, and it would be great experience for a such a young coach. This situation is perfect for a coach who values chemistry in the locker-room over control on the hardwood, and it’s a team which doesn’t require serious attention in order to compete for a title. Just go into the job anticipating that you will let LeBron do his thing.

Second Tier – Talent-Heavy Rosters

4. Minnesota Timberwolves
With the certain All-NBA talent Karl-Anthony Towns and a roster with more young talent including Andrew Wiggins, Ricky Rubio, Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, this team is loaded to be a competitive team in the west for years to come. This team comes out top of a tier full of young teams with plenty of talent, a clear cornerstone and low pressure to succeed right away. Taking on the task of developing Karl-Anthony Towns and polishing off an already impressive post game is a great job to add to any coach’s resume. This team also has diverse enough talent to play out a variety of different styles, there’s no need for a specific brand of offense to be implemented. Shooters, wing talent, good driving and ball-handling players, and a dominant post threat make this roster a dream for an offensive minded coach. The biggest challenge would be turning a player with all the tools in Andrew Wiggins into a player whose talent starts to show up more in the advanced metrics.

5. Philadelphia 76ers
With little pressure to perform straight away and one of the best talents coming out of the draft in a decade in Ben Simmons, this squad is certainly an attractive destination. There’s talent being added to the roster this year with Dario Šarić coming over from the Euroleague, and the front office is finally coming out of its winning trades, losing games mentality and making moves to build a roster that’s ready to contend. There’s little pressure to succeed immediately with a fan base that has been willing to accept less-than-competitive basketball for years on end now, and a roster that’s ready to buy in to whatever philosophy the new coach brings to the team. The biggest problem is a plethora of big-men and a dearth of guard talent which will make running an offense challenging in the beginning, something that is for me somewhat off-putting.

6. Portland Trailblazers
This team again has a talented young team, as well as a level-headed leader in Damian Lillard, and the culture to continue to be competitive and buy in. Neil Olshey is a smart GM whom you can trust to continue to make good choices and Portland is a great city to live in. This team falls behind the 76ers and Timberwolves because of the heightened expectations of continuing to be a playoff team and the big shoes to fill with Terry Stotts having run the team extremely well since 2012.

7. Boston Celtics
Very similarly to the blazers, this team is full of young talents as well as a player who can somewhat function as a go-to scorer in Al Horford. Brad Stevens will be a tough gig to follow but a keen coach with plenty of offensive sets up their sleeves will be able to get similar results out of this roster as well as continue to develop the younger players. Danny Ainge has been one of the best GMs in the league over the past few years and so any new coach should have supreme confidence in his abilities to continue to improve the roster. Ultimately the Celtics fall behind because of greater pressure by a new england fanbase who perennially expects championships out of their sports teams.

8. Milwaukee Bucks
Rounding out the young rosters tier is the Bucks. With a clear weapon in Giannis Antetokounmpo and more length than a Boeing 737 Jet (source) this roster is bound to be going places, they just haven’t gotten there yet. After sneaking into the eastern conference playoffs two years ago, they put up a disappointing 2015-16 campaign and finished 12th. It’s a great situation to enter as a coach, knowing that the team has the talent to make the playoffs but without the expectations of having made the playoffs last season. A developmental coach would have a ball here, and teaching the team how to shoot might be difficult, but it would be rewarding in the long run.

Tier 3 – Offensive Paradise

9. Los Angeles Clippers
The Clippers are the top team in the tier that is appealing to a coach like myself who loves scheming up offenses, going through rotations, drawing up sets and squeezing the most points out of every possession. The Clippers are most attractive because of the fact that they also have a lot of tools on the defensive end: Chris Paul is a perennial top PG defender, DeAndre Jordan is one of the best defenders at the 5 spot in the league, and Blake Griffin can hold his own against the best forward in the opposition line up. This gives an offensive-minded coach the freedom to focus just a bit more or the offensive end and fine tune an offensive system which can be run to perfection by the maestro Chris Paul. Looking at the Clippers results under both Vinny Del Negro and Doc Rivers, they’re been pretty similar, so there’s no evidence to suggest that taking Doc out of the coaching seat would be a tough job to make up for. The biggest challenge would be solving the problem that Doc Rivers has been unable to solve for years, who to play at the 3 spot. Hopefully an offensive minded coach would be able to figure out how to implant somebody into the offense.

10. Toronto Raptors
Just like the Clippers, the Raptors have a smart point guard in Kyle Lowry who can effectively run any offense or play designed by the coach. They also have DeMarre Carroll at the defensive end who is capable of taking a lot of pressure off at the defensive end. The reason they fall behind the Clippers is because they are lacking in that third star player on the team, and a shooting guard with a poor stroke like Demar DeRozan is less than attractive to some of the best offensive minds on the bench (though it may be seen as an interesting challenge). This job also has a lot of the same ‘underdog’ status as the Spurs, as the Raptors are set up for a playoff run but right now are still a clear second fiddle to the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference. Figuring out how to make it to the Finals is up to the new coach to discover.

11. Atlanta Hawks
Coming up last in this tier, the Hawks, who will be a much tougher situation now that they have lost Jeff Teague and Al Horford. However, these guys may turn out to have been progress stoppers, as it might be the case that Dennis Schröder and Dwight Howard turn out to be a much more lethal combination going into the future. They’ve still got a lot of interesting offensive pieces and Dennis Schröder was, in my opinion, the best backup point guard in the league last year so they’ve got plenty of ability to execute an offense, but they only have one definite star in Dwight Howard and it’s unclear whether he can truly be a go-to guy on the offensive end at this stage in his career. Unlocking the Schröder-Howard partnership will be the key to success for the new Hawks coach.

Tier 4 – Somewhat Appealing Average Teams

12. Detroit Pistons
Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the standouts on this team, they’re both young and have a lot of talent going forward. They provide a devastating pick & roll option and form a basis when creating the offense for this team. Drummond also has the tools to be one of the best defenders in the league and a go-to post threat in his own right, so developing him (along with his poor free throw shooting) is the most tantalising project in the NBA. The main fear for any coach taking up this position is how they will be able to continue the good work of Stan Van Gundy, however with his assistance in the front office, this should be more than possible.

13. Utah Jazz
Gordon Hayward is one of the best 20 players in the league and takes off a lot of the load on the offensive end, and Rudy Gobert provides the same on the defensive end. This gives a lot of flexibility to focus on the development of the youngest roster in the league [look this up]. Turning Dante Exum into a reliable point guard, amongst other projects, makes this team the perfect target for a coach with a particular focus on coaching up talented players. Finding the way to get over the hump and into the playoffs is the most immediate pressure for the coach of this team.

14. Charlotte Hornets
This team had a great run last season and ran up against Dwyane Wade in a retro playoff-Wade performance, but after years of hard times, this team has the roster construction to continue to be a playoff regular for years to come. Kemba Walker, Nicolas Batum and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist make for a great base. Figuring out how to take the next step with team seems difficult, and the possibility of treading water for a few years makes this job somewhat appealing, but not overly interesting.

15. Oklahoma City Thunder
Given all of the uncertainty over Russell Westbrook, and the fact that Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka are gone, the allure of this team has dropped significantly. That being said, there’s still a chance that Westbrook stays, and Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Domantas Sabonis and Cameron Payne make for a very fun team to coach if Westbrook does decide to leave. Sam Presti will continue to make great draft picks and acquire talent. They’ll probably continue to make the playoffs, albeit as a much lower seed, and there’s a lot of skilled players to develop, but expectations and the prospect of a disenfranchised fan base are less than attractive to a prospective coach.

16. Houston Rockets
Coaching under a very analytics-minded GM like Morrey would be an interesting experience, one which I think I would enjoy. He’ll continue to make the moves to keep this team competitive, but personally, there aren’t many players in the league I would like to coach less than James Harden. His effort on the defensive end and tendency to pound the rock for 18 out of 24 seconds on the shot clock would be infuriating. It would be very difficult to set up an offense with flow, and having to scheme essentially 4-on-5 on the defensive end would become tiresome. Plenty of concern about the buy-in from the players and the pressure from the fan-base and the front office.

Tier 5 – Theoretical Teams

17. Denver Nuggets
Coaching in Denver seems like a tantalising proposition. In case you didn’t know (sarcasm), the stadium is actually a mile above the ground which makes it harder for teams to breathe. Does a new coach continue along the lines of countless coaches before him and push the pace to tire opposing teams, or try something different. The Nuggets have a lot of promising young players on the roster, but none of them have turned that into wins, and it might turn out to be a very frustrating situation. That being said, it’s an interesting scenario for a coach and turning them back into a playoff competitor would be very rewarding.

18. Phoenix Suns
Similar to the Nuggets, this team has a lot of promising players and some big holes. They sit above the teams in the tier below because of low expectations and the ability to turn a team that nobody thinks about into a team that competes, a feat which would gain a new coach plenty of credit. Figuring out the Booker/Bledsoe/Knight backcourt and making Dragan Bender NBA ready would be the focus of the new coach, a position I would like to be in.

Tier 6 – Stars in Tough Scenarios

19. Miami Heat
The Heat’s star is currently Hassan Whiteside, who isn’t going to be the go-to guy on a contender any time soon. The team just lost Dwyane Wade, who was a negative impact on the roster during the regular season but proved he still had what it takes come playoff time. Pat Riley will continue to look to make moves to keep this team competitive, but it seems like a tough climb back to the top of the east at this point in time. Justise Winslow looks to be one of the best young talents in the league, and turning him into more than an athletic weapon is the key to this roster. That combined with faith in Pat Riley is Ultimately why they come out tops in this tier.

20. New Orleans Pelicans
The Anthony Davis-Lead Pelicans were the most disappointing team in the NBA last season, due to a rash of injuries to key players right at the beginning of the season. They should be back in the playoff picture this season, but turning Davis into one of the league’s best is still the order of the day for the coach in New Orleans. Regardless of his development, right now, Davis is without any assistance on the Pelicans roster when it comes to winning basketball games, and the talent gap doesn’t look like being closed up by a disappointing Pelicans front office who seem to be without direction watching their draft and Free Agency. With little faith in the front office and a lack of talent outside of Davis, this is a less than appealing situation.

21. Indiana Pacers
I’m not sure what Larry Bird’s plan is, if I’m to be honest. He fires Vogel who, while never a good offensive coach, managed to give the 2-seed Raptors a scare in the first round of the playoffs, and is one of the premier defensive minds in the league. Then he makes a bunch of moves in Free Agency and assembles one of the worst shooting teams in the league. As a coach, I’m concerned for my job safety after Vogel got fired, and I’m unsure how to detangle a roster with so little shooting outside of Paul George. They also bring in an aging Al Jefferson and Jeff Teague, while keeping Monta Ellis which makes for a dauntingly tough time on the defensive end as well. That being said, it’d be a fascinating scenario to try and scheme an offense that makes this team league average, and Paul George would be a weapon to coach.

22. Washington Wizards
John Wall quietly had one of the best seasons of his career in Washington last season, but it did nothing to make this team an interesting competitor in the playoff race. The Wizards also had a quiet Free Agency, (comparatively) resigning Bradley Beal and little else after they failed to get a meeting with Hometown kid Kevin Durant. As a coach I would have little faith in this roster improving much in the future, and would have a tough time finding a way to get this team over the hump and back into a competitive position in the playoffs. John Wall is the redeeming element of this roster obviously, and gives me a lot more confidence when it comes to running the team.

23. Dallas Mavericks
For the last few years Dirk has continued to be the centre-point of this team, but they’ve failed to attract anyone bigger than Monta Ellis. Last season they managed to scrape in with Deron Williams as the main sidekick, and managed to give a scare to the Thunder, but no-one ever took the team seriously. Adding Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut and David Lee to become the almost-Warriors is an interesting strategy, but it’s hard to see how this makes them a great deal more competitive given that Dirk will be just that little bit older next season. Finally, pressure to live up to the standards of the second best coach in the league, Rick Carlisle, and facing pressure from a win-now owner in Mark Cuban would make it a precarious situation for even the most confident coach.

Tier 7 – Ehhh…

24. Memphis Grizzlies
David Joerger perfectly curated this team over the last few years to personify tough, and it works reasonably well in the playoffs as they managed to scare plenty of teams and pull off some upsets. That being said, Mike Conley is never going to be an All-NBA point guard in the future and Marc Gasol is past his prime and won’t be able to continue to be a dominant post presence. Adding Chandler Parsons helps, but he’s still an inconsistent shooter and it’s hard to see how a new coach could significantly change the culture of this team and turn them into an above average offense. Ultimately I would be uncomfortable with them having just fired David Joerger and wouldn’t know what the plan is with this roster.

25. Chicago Bulls
Again, I have no clue what is going on with the bulls, and am at a loss as to how to deal with a backcourt of Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo and Jimmy Butler. All 3 of those guys need the ball in their hands and are bad 3 point shooters on balance. Pau Gasol was the best player for them last year and is gone, and the pieces they got back for Derrick Rose aren’t appealing to me much either. A lot of pressure from the fan base and front office to have a better season than last time out, and not a great roster to pull it off. Scary situation for a coach.

Tier 8 – Wasteland Rosters and Dead-End Franchises

26. Orlando Magic
The Magic had a very complicated offseason, bringing in Serge Ibaka at the cost of Victor Oladipo, Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, signing Bismack Biyombo, and adding Jeff Green and Jodie Meeks. They’ve got a complicated roster with question mark personified Nikola Vučević, raw Aaron Gordon and ugly-stroke Elfrid Payton, but also weapons in Mario Hezonja and Evan Fournier. It’s hard to say what will become of this roster, but it’s intriguing from a coaching angle in a lot of ways and that makes it by far the most attractive out of this bottom tier. I have very little faith in the decision-making of the front office.

27. Los Angeles Lakers
Given the strange locker room dynamic coming off the Kobe tour of 2015-16 and DeAngelo Russell’s snitching, this already vacuous roster comes with a very tedious chemistry problem going forwards. They also just gave away one of the worst contracts of the Free Agency frenzy, signing Timofey Mosgov. Brandon Ingram will be interesting to work with, and the team will have little problem attracting superstars in the future (they’re already rumoured to be involved with Russell Westbrook). Handling the strange chemistry, dealing with the weird roster construction and ultimately having to coach a competitive team given the eternal pressure in Los Angeles makes this team one of the least appealing jobs in the NBA.

28. New York Knicks
This is a nightmare. If it weren’t New York and they didn’t have Kristaps Porzingas the Knicks would be at the bottom of the list. Ridiculously high expectations from a fan base where a large portion of the New York fans would still think Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah are good. Derrick Rose who thinks that the Knicks are a super team just like the Warriors. Carmelo Anthony who continues to prove that he’s not all that concerned with ever making it to the Finals. No faith in a Phil Jackson who thought to put this thing together, and seething eyes from above if you decide to run anything that doesn’t fall under the triangle offense philosophy.

29. Sacramento Kings
It’s not really fair to keep bashing the Kings like this. They haven’t had a winning team since 2004 and it doesn’t look like turning around soon. DeMarcus Cousins is a coach killer and creates disharmony in the locker room. They go through coaches like they’re hot cakes. More could be said but it’s a hard life in Sacramento. At least they’re getting a new stadium which is nice.

30. Brooklyn Nets
The reason they are this low is the fact that they have no draft picks until the year 2132 and that’s not very comforting to a coach. You also have to give Jeremy Lin the keys to the offense which is a perfect way to cap your team’s success at mediocrity. Brook Lopez would be handy out there but he’s over the hill and it’s hard to find any reason to get excited about this team.


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